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Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Kind of Chickens Should I Raise? Help Choosing a Breed


~I currently have twelve different breeds, for a total of 21 hens~
I get asked all the time what is the 'best' breed for a new chicken keeper. Well, that's a tough question to answer because there really IS no one best breed.  There are best-laying breeds, best-looking breeds (although beauty IS in the eye of the beholder), most cold-hardy, most heat-tolerant, prettiest egg layers, best foragers...and the list goes on.



~While some breeds will naturally be higher in the pecking order than others, they all get along with each other~
I don't find much difference in caring for any one breed over another. Mine all sleep together, eat together, forage together, dust bath together; none require special care.  Of course each hen as their own personality and quirks, most breed-driven. Some enjoy free ranging more than others, some like the high roosts, some don't, but on the whole, the choice of breed is a personal one.  So the best breed (or breeds) for YOU are those that will fufill the specific reasons why YOU want to start raising chickens.

I only raise chickens for their eggs. We don't eat our chickens, not even once they are done laying, so I won't go into choosing meat breeds since I know nothing about raising meat birds.. We'll just focus on egg laying hens.

~giving your flock at least a little time each day out of the run, supervised to protect them from predators, enables them to supplement their layer feed with insects, worms, weeds and grass~
While I don't advocate free ranging unless it is controlled and supervised (i.e. by you, a trained LGD, and/oror in an area where the hens have adequate shelter and hiding places from hawks and ground predators), my girls do get a chance to explore the pasture each evening and even with that limited access to foraging, I do find there is an advantage to choosing breeds who can at least subsidize part of your feed bill with worms, bugs, weeds and grass.

However, some of my chickens just don't seem to have much interest in finding their own food. They prefer to simply hang out in the run which they know provides a constant supply of feed, while others literally knock each other out of the way to sprint to the pasture where they know there are bugs and worms and grubs!


I currently have twelve different breeds, a total of 21 hens. I love them all for their own unique traits and I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite.  I loved a mixed flock both for their beauty and individual appearance, egg color and how their personalities all complement each other.

I currently raise or have raised in the past:

Ameraucana
Andalusian
Araucana
Australorp
Bantam Chocolate Orpington
Black Copper Marans
Blue Copper Marans
Buff Orpington
Cochin
Easter Egger
Faverolle
Lavender Orpington
Light Sussex
Olive Egger
Rhode Island Red
Silver Laced Wyandotte

In the interest of helping you choose some breeds that might be right for you, here are some desired traits and some of the breeds that possess each:

~an Australorp holds the world egg-laying record, managing  a whopping 364 eggs in 365 days!~
Some of the Most-Prolific Egg Layers include: Anconas, Australorps, Golden Comets, Leghorns, Minorcas, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Sex-Links, Sussex and Wyandottes. HERE is a wonderful article from The Livestock Conservancy on Australorps, one of my favorite breeds.

~our Light Sussex, Guinevere, doesn't even seem to notice the snow~
Cold hardy breeds include: Ameraucanas, Auracanas, Australorps, Barnevelders, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Brahmas, Buckeye, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, Dominiques, Easter Eggers, Faverolles, Jersey Giants, Marans, New Hampshire Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Sussex, Welsummers and Wyandottes.

~Magda, our Andalusian, handles the summer heat very well due to her large comb- yes, she's a hen, not a rooster!~
Heat-tolerant breeds include: Ameraucanas, Anconas, Andalusians, Auracanas, Easter Eggers, Hamburgs, Lakenvelders, Leghorns, and Penedesencas.

~Our Buff Orpington has had a few bouts with being broody, true to her breed~
Broody breeds include: Australorps, Brahmas, Buffs, Cochins, Columbian Wyandottes, Dark Cornish, Partridge Rocks, Silkies and Speckled Sussex.

~Our Andalusian, Eva, is only on the nest long enough to lay her egg and then she's off again on her next adventure~
Non-broody breeds include: Andalusians, Campines, Lakenvelders, Leghorns, Orloffs, Penedesencas, Rhode Island Reds, and Sicilian Buttercups.

~Our two Faverolles, Praline and Madeleine, seem unconcerned with being at the very bottom of the pecking order~
Docile breeds include: Ameraucana, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, Faverolles, Plymouth Rock and Silkies.


~Orange Chicken, our Rhode Island Red, is a wonderful forager~
Best Foraging breeds include: Ancona, Andalusians, Marans, Minorca, Penedesenca, Rhode Island Reds and Welsummers.


Prettiest Egg Laying breeds include:  Blue (Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Cream Legbars), Pink (Australorps, Silkies, Sussex), Chocolate Brown (Marans, Penedesencas), Cream (Faverolles) Green (Easter Eggers, Olive Eggers).  For a more comprehensive list of breeds sorted by the egg color they lay, click HERE.

I hope this has given you a starting point to begin choosing the breeds you will raise.  There is plenty of breed information and wonderful photos online once you have your choices narrowed down a bit.
Browse chicks at  Meyer Hatchery 
Check out the breed selector tool at My Pet Chicken
Read more about different breeds here on the Manna Pro Breed Chart.
Download the Mother Earth News Pickin' Chicken iphone/ipad app HERE.

BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST BETTER WITH CHICKENS!


I would love for you to join me here...

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29 comments:

  1. Great article and love the pictures! Perhaps I'll work on an article focusing on meat bird breeds (I have a small flock of Dark Cornish).
    Enjoy this beautiful day!!
    Leigh
    Natural Chicken Keeping

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  2. Loved this list and breakdown on the breeds, thanks Lisa!

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  3. I have ten hens - different breeds. My best layer is my Rhode Island Red. Next is Barred Rock. No wonder they sell tons of those! The Black sex-links are great, too, but their eggs are smaller. There's my two cents!
    These breeds must all be very heat-tolerant, too, living in these hot Texas summers!

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  4. One comment is that once you decide how many chickens/ what breeds you want, build a coop/pen to hold twice as many, You'll end up wanting other breeds because they all have something unique to offer. my favorite breed changes on a daily basis:)

    Another tip is only get one or two a each kind of chicken you want. There are so many wonderful breeds you don't want to limit yourself to just one breed

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  5. PINNED! Now I am wondering what we really have. We have gone down to 4 ladies, as we like to call them. Our favorite is Ethel, a Rhode Island Red - we've had her for 2 years. We also have 3 Production Reds, and 4 Easter Eggers - though I am pretty sure one thinks she is a boy.
    We have 26 eggs incubating in my daughter's kindergarten class right now. More Reds, Brahmas, and Buff Orpingtons. I REALLY want some Welsummers, but haven't been able to find any out here.

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  6. I have a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock and Red Star Sex Link. Just last week, the Barred Rock and Sex Link started terrorizing the Buff, to the point where I had to knock them off her last night. I honestly think she would have let them peck her to death. They are 1 year old and have always lived together. Do you have any ideas why they have started doing this? I'm so mad I'm ready to give those two away.

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    1. I have had the same problem with one of my hens. My rooster and the other hens have been on her case for a couple of months. I finally put her in "Isolation" with one other hen and they are tolerating each other, but they still have their moments, but I hated to put her in solitary confinement, because chickens are such social beings. I have tried to put them out to forage together with the others but it starts up all over again. I hate to think she will have to live the rest of her life this way...not a happy thought for her or her room mate. I am planning to trade roommates out from time to time to give them a break. Hope others have suggestions.

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    2. Although there is a pecking order a flock adheres to, undue bullying really isn't normal. It's most likely boredom, being too confined. Better to separate the bully if you can. Put the bully in a dog crate for a few days and see if that helps. Otherwise try and give them more to keep them occupied and less interesting in pecking at each others. Heads of cabbage, carrot slices, radishes, things that they need to really work at to eat seems to keep everyone busy.

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    3. Thank you; that sounds like a good compromise. This morning I separated the Red Star and the Barred Rock, hoping the remaining one and the Buff would maybe bond. I know what you mean, though. I hate for any of them to be in isolation, but with only three, one will always have to be. I'll try trading roommates as well. I wonder if getting another Buff would help, so maybe those two could be buddies?

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    4. Thank you, Lisa. I'll give them some cabbage today to see if that helps.

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    5. That could help also to get a few more. My really docile Faverolles sort of pal around alone together so they don't get picked on, sometimes they hang out with my two cochins as well...

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    6. Lisa, I can get a pullet in May from our farm supply store. Do you think she would be old enough to be turned loose with the older ones?

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    7. You will need to quarantine any new pullets you bring in for at least 2-3 weeks to be sure they aren't bringing in any illness. After that I would put her in with your Buff first so they get used to each other and then introduce her to the other two after letting them see each other through fencing first.

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    8. Actually, if you can...could you get 2 or 3 pullets? That way one won't be lonely in quarantine, and then they can get used to the buff and once they seem to have bonded a bit, you can add all 3 or 4 in with your two bullies - then they will be outnumbered or at the very least have more little heads to pick one so the bullying will be spread out a bit more?

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    9. I like that idea, Lisa. I'm just afraid I wouldn't have room. My run is 15' x 7'. I do have a separate chicken tractor that is 7.5' x 4', but I'm afraid they would be crowded if I have more than four hens. What do you think?

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    10. Well rule of thumb is 10 square feet per bird in the run....so you should have room for 10...5 or 6 should be fine in that space esp if some are in the tractor from time to time.

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  7. Good morning, Lisa. Just wanted to let you and your readers know that the cabbage works great. I quartered a head and put it in suet feeders, and they have spent most of the last two days getting it out. And, best of all, no more bullying! The Orpington doesn't run from the others anymore. I also hung up a CD and a cat toy. They've been too interested in the cabbage to pay attention to those, but their run looks amazingly like a disco now. Thank you so much for your help!

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    1. EXCELLENT news! Bullying isn't normal, its the equivalent to cabin fever in humans. You're a great chicken momma! Nothing wrong with a disco coop!

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    2. Hi, Lisa. I'll be getting two Buffs at the end of May. They'll be about two months old. Once I move them in with the big girls (probably the middle of June), what is the best way to keep the big ones from eating the food for the little ones? Or will they be old enough to start eating the layer feed by then? Thanks for your help!

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  8. hi,
    I was wondering if you have any roosters? and if so which breads are known to be meanest.

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    1. I only have one rooster right now -a Marans, Ameraucan mix - and he's mean. They are only doing their job - protecting the chickens - not sure what breed is necessarily the meanest tho.

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    2. have any of your chickens ever die?

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    3. Not any grown hens. I have had chicks die who don't survive the trip when they are shipped. That's why I hatch my own now.

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  9. how long should I wate to introduce new baby chickens into a flock???

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    1. No earlier than 8-10 weeks and then behind a fence for a week or two so everyone gets used to each other.

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  10. Thank you for this. It helps. The Andalusians meet three criteria. The leghorns meet two. The Ameraucanas meet two also. I just might do what you do, get one or two of each. :-)

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    1. I love Andalusians. They are super friendly little birds. Leghorns have a sort of bad rap for being a bit neurotic. I assume you're looking for heat-tolerant breeds, both of which they are.

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Thank you for your kind comments and joining along with Fresh Eggs Daily as we live our wonderful, natural country farm life.

Lisa/Fresh Eggs Daily Farm Girl
www.facebook.com/FreshEggsDaily